Photo by Patrick Hogan.
Everything was looking good about three years after the wrath of Hurricane Rita, and most folks on Sabine Lake and Calcasieu Lake were moving forward and catching plenty of redfish. Then, much to our horror, Hurricane Ike came calling on Sept. 13, 2008, taking no prisoners. It would turn out to be the third most destructive hurricane in U.S. history.
Even though Ike made landfall near Galveston, Sabine and Calcasieu were on the nasty east side of this vicious storm, and they took a beating.
“It wasn’t the wind that tore us up so much,” said guide Buddy Oakes of Hackberry Rod & Gun Club. “It was a water event. We had 11 1/2 feet of water cover us up. Rita was devastating. But Ike came in with a storm surge that leveled everything in its path.”
At Sabine Lake, on the Texas-Louisiana border, a wall of water from 12 to 20 feet high moved onshore and wiped out just about everything that had been rebuilt after Rita.
So, in retrospect you would think that the fisheries on Calcasieu and Sabine would be wiped out.
In fact, since Ike came calling, the fishing is good on both of these bays.
“I don’t know what happened,” said Capt. Jerry Norris, who operates a guide service on Sabine Lake. “The fishing after Rita turned on. And now, after Ike, it’s about as good as I’ve seen it in over 40 years of fishing.”
Ditto that on Calcasieu. Oakes said that he believes there are more redfish on the lake than anytime in recent years.
“Since Ike, our guides have been getting daily limits on reds,” said Oakes. “It’s great fishing that has saved many of our trips.”
One thing is certain: Both of these bays have been top producers of reds forever. But following the storm surges from two hurricanes, things have only gotten better.
I’ve done quite a bit of fishing on Sabine since Ike, and I can say from hands-on experience the action for reds is something you have to see to believe. Last fall, the action under the birds was phenomenal. It wasn’t unusual to go out and find an acre-size school of reds chasing baitfish.
So where do you find reds on Sabine during April?
The best tactic is to work the lower lake shoreline. The causeway bridge (that connects Louisiana and Texas) is where you want to start fishing. There is a ramp on the Texas side of the causeway bridge. That’s also where you’ll find a store selling tackle, food and drinks. From there, you have two options. One is to head south and fish Sabine Pass. The other is to head north and fish along the Louisiana shoreline.
UPPER SABINE LAKE
Let’s start on the Louisiana shoreline. The area from the causeway bridge up to Blue Buck Point is very good. What you want to do is work your way up from the bridge to the point. That’s about a half-mile of water. This particular stretch of water can load up with hungry reds, because this is the tip of what you might call a redfish tunnel.
Photo by Robert Sloan.
The reds move up from the Gulf through the jetties, then Sabine Pass and into the lake. Their first stop is the big, shallow flat from the causeway up to Blue Buck Point. That particular flat is among Norris’ favorite spots to fish.
“That area holds lots of reds because it attracts lots of baitfish, like shad and mullet, during early spring,” Norris said. “Harvesting oysters on Sabine has been illegal for years. Because of that, we have a lot of oyster reefs on the lower reef, especially along that particular shoreline.”
Since the water in that area is shallow, it’s best to do one of three things — drift, stake out or bump and go with a trolling motor. Reds are skittish when they are feeding across a shallow flat. There are several isolated oyster reefs just south of Blue Buck Point. I normally drift within casting range of the reef, then stake out my shallow-running Maverick HPX. At that point, I can fan-cast over and around the reef. You never know where reds are going to be feeding in a situation like that.
Often the water on the lower end of Sabine Lake will be stained. That’s when you might want to fish with a black spinnerbait. My favorite is one with a black grub tail and gold blade. You might be surprised at how aggressive reds can be on spinners worked over shallow flats. I found that out one day while fishing with Billy Murray. He’s best known as a bass fisherman, but one day while fishing shallow flats for reds, he and I caught easy limits of 5- to 10-pounders while fishing spinnerbaits over scattered shell reefs.
Norris said his favorite lures over shallow oyster reefs include a She Dog, Super Spook or Bass Assassin.
“I’ll almost always start out with a topwater, then move to a soft plastic,” explained Norris. “Reds will smash a topwater if you can get it over them. I’ll fish a She Dog in black/chartreuse. If nothing happens, I’ll switch to a soft plastic like an Assassin in chartreuse or red/shad.”
The entire shoreline from the causeway bridge and up to Blue Buck Point can hold pods of reds. That’s a lot of water and can take up a whole morning or afternoon of fishing if you do it right. The main thing is to go slow, look for mullet and fish every inch of water thoroughly.
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